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NYC restaurants spend a ton to get creative with outdoor dining as Gov. Cuomo threatens to shut down all indoor eating options

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Trying to survive

Outdoor dining area at Benjamin Prime Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan (Image source: New York Post video screenshot)

New York City restaurants are already having trouble staying in business under Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's edicts, which says they may operate at only 25% capacity.

Now Cuomo is threatening to completely close all indoor dining in the city.

The governor declared Monday that all dining rooms in the Big Apple could be shut down as COVID-19 hospitalizations increase, the New York Post reported.

"If after five days we haven't seen a stabilization in a region's hospital rate, we're going to clamp down on indoor dining, " Cuomo announced during a news conference in New York City.

"There are certain absolutes, OK? What is the absolute here? You cannot overwhelm your hospitals. You can't be Italy," Cuomo told New York City reporters. "If you are at a rate that is going to overwhelm your hospitals, you must shut down."

Some areas of the city have already seen restaurants forced to completely close their dining rooms and offer takeout and outdoor dining only.

One Staten Island location, Mac's Public House, famously defied the shutdown order and declared itself an "autonomous zone" from lockdown restrictions. New York Sheriff's Department officers arrested the bar's co-owner, Danny Presti, for flouting the health mandates.

During his presser Monday, Cuomo mocked New Yorkers who would dare to complain about lockdowns, the Post said.

"'Oh, we don't want to do that again,'" the governor said mockingly. Then he warned that there was just one way to avoid a citywide ban on indoor dining: "Then change your behavior. But if we don't change our behavior, that is the absolute reality of the situation."

The difficulty restaurants are having were reflected in a newly released survey from the National Restaurant Association that found one in six restaurants in the U.S. have closed permanently as a result of the pandemic.

Gotham's restaurants are feeling the heat and many are getting creative with outdoor dining as Cuomo continues on his rampage.

Restaurants lucky enough to have rooftop access, backyards, sidewalk space, or streets not blocked by fire hydrants are investing a lot of money to winterize their outdoor spaces for dining, the Post reported. For example:

  • Nerai, a Greek restaurant in Midtown, has spent $120,000 to winterize its garden area for outdoor-dining patrons.
  • Fig & Olive had to close one of its two Manhattan locations, but its remaining location has spent thousands of dollars creating dinging igloos that are wrapped in plastic as well has a "lean-to style 'lodge.'"
  • The Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in Times Square has transformed its 10,000 square-foot outdoor area into a ski-lodge-themed dining space.
  • Tribeca's Kitchen is spending thousands of dollars to winterize its outdoor space with a permanent outdoor structure coming after the New Year.
  • Carnegie Diner & Cafe in Midtown spent $6,000 updating its outdoor space that holds only 40 people.
  • Benjamin Prime Steakhouse in Midtown has come under fire after investing serious money in building a giant tent that covers the sidewalk on 40th Street and requires pedestrians to use a passageway through the outdoor dining area in lieu of using the street.

Restaurant consultant Rick Camac told the Post, "Everyone is trying to grab as much outdoor space as they can — even from their neighbors. And if you don't have outdoor space, you are out of luck."

If things don't change soon, Camac warned, it's going to be curtains for a lot more eateries.

"Many restaurants will be dropping like flies, unless more federal aid kicks in," he said.

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